Sunday, 21 August 2011

"Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud," by Andrew Lane

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I was loaned this book by a friend (Hi Bill!), who we were meeting for lunch today, because he knows that I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories.  I thought that I would write a quick post about it, as meeting Bill today has had me thinking about my response to the book.

Andrew Lane's hero is the teenage Sherlock Holmes.  In true Enid Blyton style, the young Holmes is at boarding school but stumbles into a mystery during school holidays.  He has been unable to go home, as his mother is unwell and his father has been stationed in India, so his brother, Mycroft, picks him up from school and takes the unwilling Sherlock to stay with his uncle and aunt.  A loner at school, he makes a rare friend of a street ruffian, Matty Arnatt.  Matty has seen a mysterious cloud leaving the scene where a dead body is found and, shortly after, Sherlock himself discovers a disfigured dead body.  Amyus Crowe, who has been hired by Mycroft as Sherlock's tutor for the holiday, aids in solving the mystery surrounding the dead bodies while also teaching Sherlock how to think.

In my post on "Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers," I wrote that the author, Gyles Brandreth, was reverse engineering elements from the Sherlock Holmes canon.  Andrew Lane is doing something very similar in taking the eccentricities of Conan Doyle's character and giving Holmes a teenage back-story that could create the emotionally distant, rational adult (dysfunctional family, oppressive boarding school).  This novel is written for a teenage audience, and the straightforward language reflects this, but there are elements here that the adult Holmes fan will also enjoy (for example, Holmes uncle is called Sherrinford, which I believe was one of the names that Conan Doyle considered for his creation).  The mystery is well-paced and, in a nice touch, the bad guy is called Baron Maupertuis (the Conan Doyle canon is littered with mysteries mentioned but not explained and, in "The Reigate Squires," Watson refers to the "colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis").  I also enjoyed this novel because, in Baron Maupertuis, Andrew Lane has created a memorable, grotesque villain with an entertaining line in barking mad vendettas.

I'm not sure that I feel a pressing urge to seek out Andrew Lane's further Young Sherlock Holmes mysteries - I already have a huge pile of books waiting to be read - but this was a fun way to spend a few hours.

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